Betsy DeVos came one step closer to becoming Secretary of Education this week. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday split along party lines over her confirmation, and Republicans won 12 to 11. The question of DeVos’ installment in the Trump cabinet now falls to the full Senate
, which is expected to take up the issue any day now. As that confirmation looms, critics are calling on 23 senators to recuse themselves from the vote in light of past campaign contributions from the DeVos family
. One senator on that list is Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines
According to a search of the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ database, DeVos contributed $5,200 to Daines’ 2014 senate campaign. Additionally, at least seven other members of the DeVos family also donated money to Daines' 2014 run, adding up to $46,800 all told. Campaign contribution reports filed with the Federal Election Commission also show $2,000
from the Alticor PAC, the political arm of the DeVos-owned corporation Alticor. DeVos disclosed her personal contributions to Daines and scores of other candidates and political groups in her Senate questionnaire
, and stated during her confirmation hearing that it's "possible" her family has donated as much as $200 million
to Republican candidates over the years.
Shortly after a meeting with DeVos in early January, Daines described DeVos as having “a passion for education” and forecast that she “will be a formidable leader at the Department of Education.” In response to questions from the Indy about the donations and the pending confirmation vote, a spokesperson for Daines emailed the following statement:
Steve supports Betsy DeVos because she shares his commitment to increasing local control of our schools with policies that originate with the parents, teachers and administrators who are closest to the classroom. Any implication otherwise is both false and an insult to the people of Montana.
However, thousands of protesters here in the state
have already pushed back against the nominations of DeVos and several other cabinet members, at times taking their opposition straight to
Daines’ local offices. They aren’t alone. Activists in South Carolina last month pressured Sen. Tim Scott
to vote against DeVos’ confirmation with rallies, Facebook comments and calls to Scott’s congressional office. And yesterday, Philadelphia-based writer, teacher and costume designer Katherine Fritz
launched a GoFundMe campaign titled “Buy [Sen.] Pat Toomey’s Vote.”
In the past 18 hours, she’s raised $9,535. “This campaign isn't actually about buying a vote from an elected official,” Fritz wrote on the campaign’s page. “But it is about using satire to point out the various ways in which our elected officials can—legally!—take money from the same people that now seek political office. Our education system shouldn't be ‘pay-to-play,’ and neither should our democracy.”
The petitions and ads
calling for Daines and 22 other senators to bow out of the confirmation process were launched last month by a consortium of left-leaning organizations including End Citizens United. ECU went so far as to publish a report
documenting the scope of the DeVos family’s political investments, in which another notable name cropped up: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of two Republicans
who announced on Feb. 1 they intend to vote against DeVos’ confirmation.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that critics are questioning the potential influence of DeVos’ past campaign giving. DeVos made her stance
on the role of money in politics known all the way back in 1997, when she penned an op-ed for the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call defending soft money. In the piece she conceded that her family had sought to buy influence by donating vast sums to the Republican Party, and stated that “we do expect some things in return.” Here’s the full letter, as reprinted
by Mother Jones:
I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. Occasionally a wayward reporter will try to make the charge that we are giving this money to get something in return, or that we must be purchasing influence in some way.
In fact, shortly after this summer's historic budget agreement, some on the left began shopping a rumor that President Clinton was planning to line-item veto a provision that, they hypothesized, had been somehow sneaked into the agreement to benefit my family's company, the Amway Corporation.
For a moment, the Democrats got very excited, believing they had an opportunity to claim that we bought access. It was all hogwash, and upon being confronted with the facts, they had to scrap their plan.
I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.
We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.
People like us must surely be stopped.
That last sentence, clearly, was intended to be sarcastic. Twenty years later, critics are taking it literally.